Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Bangladeshi opposition leader Sheikh Hasina Wazed says she will return home on Monday to face what she calls “fictitious” murder and extortion charges filed against her while she was traveling in the United States and Europe.

The High Court of Bangladesh refused on April 30 to accept a petition filed on Mrs. Wazed’s behalf asking police not to arrest her when she returns home from Britain.

In a telephone interview from London, the former prime minister told The Washington Times that she was prepared to fight the charges when she gets home.

By Mrs. Wazed’s count, there have been 19 attempts on her life.

“I survived all of them because Allah saved me. Why should I be worried now?” she said, when asked if she was concerned about her safety on her return to Bangladesh.

“Allah has given me a life to do some work for the people of Bangladesh. I will work for my people. I am ready to die for them.”

A military-backed caretaker government filed the charges against Mrs. Wazed, who leads the political party Awami League, while she was visiting the United States in April. She was accused of playing a role in the deaths of political activists during riots in late October.

The government also barred her from returning on the grounds that she would “jeopardize discipline and economic activities” through “provocative statements.” That decision was reversed last week.

Mrs. Wazed said the government had shown “double standards” by charging her and then preventing her return to Bangladesh.

“They thought I would be afraid to face these charges,” she said. “Who are they to decide whether we stay in the country or go abroad? That is for our people to decide.”

Proclaiming her innocence, Mrs. Wazed said, “I know I haven’t done anything wrong. I have not killed anyone.”

She accused an Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, of wrongly implicating her in the case.

Mrs. Wazed also criticized the caretaker government for failing to hold long-delayed elections originally scheduled for January.

President Iajuddin Ahmed declared a state of emergency on Jan. 11 after clashes between supporters of Mrs. Wazed’s Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Begum Khaleda Zia.

Mr. Ahmed relinquished control as chief of the caretaker government and postponed elections scheduled for Jan. 22. A reconstituted interim administration under Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed has since taken over.

“There was a mass movement when the caretaker government took over. Their first job was to hold elections. They haven’t done that yet,” Mrs. Wazed said.

The interim administration says it wants to clean up politics, crack down on crime and corruption and introduce electoral and economic reforms before organizing the elections.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Bush administration was watching the situation “closely” and has urged the caretaker government “to move as expeditiously as possible to elections so the Bangladeshis can exercise their right to vote.”

He warned that if “the caretaker government doesn’t take the right decisions, then … there is a real possibility that this can threaten Bangladeshi democracy and nobody wants to see that.”

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